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Baltimore Oriole


If in joy you need a tutorial

I suggest the Baltimore Oriole.

April he journeys by night

North from south of the Gulf,

A grueling ordeal by flight

To prove he is worthy of heirs;

And the bird who calls at my door,

Once crossing the Gulf under stars,

Follows the Atlantic shelf

Across six states or more

Without falling fatally weary,

And then by early in May

Reaches and crosses Lake Erie,

Riding a wind on its tail

To find—and how can this be?—

Some thousands of miles away

The Michigan cottonwood tree

He's reached for years without fail,

And where again he will nest

With his mate a few weeks behind

On her impossible quest:

That tree of all trees she will find.


Then his first day here has broken

And he's already up and about

Before most others have woken—

Before we locals are able,

And his whistle is calling us out

From our porchside silver maple:

Wake up!  I'm here!  Wake up—I'm back!

That whistle, so bright and clear,

Is brought on by a joy attack.

It's the Maytime anthem of cheer.

Then he whistles across the day

Like a soul whose work is play.

And yet how seldom he's seen

Way up in the maples and willows,

Where for caterpillars he'll glean

The spring's first small-leafed billows.

The topmost branches he'll wander

While whistling all the fonder,

And now and then in solar glare

We glimpse his blackbird silhouette

Until the sun is right and—there!

That vision we can't forget:

A breeze is secretly blowing

All of his embers to glowing;

Now all attention is won

By the bird who fell from the sun.


And when he's on the fly

He'll soar as well as sing.

He's laughter to the eye.

He's pumpkin on the wing.


You may spy his one desire

As he rounds from tree to tree,

Though when off without her pair

You may never know it's she,

Light brown with just a flare

Of her partner's orange coal-fire.

Soon she weaves from gathered grass

And even bits of cloth and string

At heights no other birds' surpass

And hanging like a netted cheese

A nest you may see gently swing

Way up among the blowing leaves.

Inside she lays and incubates

Up to six new oriole fates,

And he feeds her through her stay,

Then to and from the hungry nest

To feed their new relations

Both exhaust each summer day.

A thousand minor migrations!

Does an oriole never rest.


The last of June will pass unsung,

Without our wake-up call each morning;

And come July our trees are fled,

Without farewell, without forewarning:

The pair and all their able young

Are tropics-bound between their tarries

To fill on nectar, fruit and berries;

Just two brief months upon this Earth

And by the stars the newly bred

Must soar the nights for all their worth

Along a route they've never flown

To reach a home they've never seen

And then return when one year grown.

Where are their winter haunts, I wonder.

It's somewhere sultry, lush and green,

With boughs of glowing fruit to plunder.

Sometimes I dream it's Macondo.

Yes, to the land of Gabo they go!

That’s where I’d like to think they fly,

To sip from the flowers

That drop at all hours

From the clear Caribbean sky.


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